Adopt, adapt, improve

Adopt, adapt, improve could be seen as a mantra for KM – but is it always the right approach?

“Adopt, Adapt, Improve” is the maxim of the British “Round Table” club – a non-political, non-sectarian association for young professional men, for social and professional ends. The maxim comes from a 1927 speech by Edward, Prince of Wales “The young business and professional men of this country must get together round the table, adopt methods that have proved so sound in the past, adapt them to the changing needs of the times and wherever possible, improve them.”

The phrase was even mentioned in a Monty Python sketch.

Adopt, Adapt, Improve also works in KM terms, and is in some ways as good and as simple a KM mantra as “Learn Before, During and After”, or “Ask Learn Share”. You can look at Prince Edward’s vision of the Round Table as a community of practice, developing and discussing best practices. In any task of undertaking we should adopt ideas and knowledge that have worked before elsewhere, adapt them to our current situation, and improve them by learning on the job; making sure we broadcast them to others for their adoption. This way, knowledge is used, improved and shared, and the collective knowledge grows in effectiveness and value.

But is this 3-word mantra always applicable?

  • There are times when adaptation is a risk (see the innovation spectrum, and where adaptation becomes tinkering or meddling) and where a better approach is “copy exactly” as in the Intel case study. People like to adapt – it gives them more ownership of the outcome, but where a context is unchanging, and a solution works and always works (and especially if we don’t quite know why it works) then Adaptation may do more harm than good. In such a case, the Mantra would just be “Adopt”.
  • There are times when there is nothing to Adopt; where no current solution meets your needs. In this case, the Matra is “innovate, test, improve”.

 But in most other cases – where knowledge is evolving, and where knowledge exists that will help you in your work but may not quite fit your current context, then you could do a lot worse than to adopt these three words as your KM strapline:

Adopt, Adapt, Improve 

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Shared by: Nick Milton

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